How to make the most of your new Apple Watch

Cherlynn Low
·Reviews Editor
·8-min read

So you’ve been given or bought yourself an Apple Watch for the holidays. Congrats! Whether you’re a first-time smartwatch user or just new to watchOS, wearing an Apple Watch can feel like a big change in your daily life. You don’t want to just strap it on and rely on the default settings either -- a device as personal as a smartwatch is most useful when you’ve set it up to your exact needs. From watch face tips to key reminders, this guide will walk you through how to make the most of your new Apple Watch.

The basics

The first thing you’ll do is set up your watch, which is thankfully pretty easy. Turn on your Apple Watch, hold it near your iPhone and a panel will pop up to take you through basics like pairing, signing in with your Apple ID, creating a password and choosing what apps or features to enable. Here, you’ll also be prompted to set up Siri and Apple Pay, which is a simple process if you already have them on your phone.

During the setup, you’ll be asked to turn on things like SOS and automatic watchOS updates, and it’s a good idea to enable both. SOS allows you to quickly make a call to local emergency responders by holding down the watch’s crown until you hear an alert and see a countdown. If your Watch isn’t a cellular model, just remember that your phone has to be close by to make calls from your wrist.

You can also activate Fall Detection which will get in touch with emergency services and preset contacts for you when it’s detected you’ve fallen. Don’t worry, you’ll have the option to confirm before such a call is made, but like the SOS feature, it’s better to have everything set up ahead of time instead of hunting for them when an emergency happens.

Apple Watch Series 6
Apple Watch Series 6

Health and fitness settings

Having automatic updates on will make sure you have the latest features and security fixes. With the newest version of watchOS, for example, you’ll get access to Apple’s new Fitness+ video service. You’ll get a free three-month trial with your Watch, and the programs are worth checking out especially if you’re a beginner. The workouts are easy, the instructors are friendly and the Apple Watch integration is excellent.

One of the best things about the Apple Watch (and smartwatches in general) is their ability to keep tabs on our health and activity. During the setup process, you’ll be prompted to choose your Activity goals. At this stage, it’s fine to use what Apple recommends, like 30 minutes of exercise every day and a Stand goal of 10 hours (or Roll goal, for users in wheelchairs). You’ll most likely tweak these over time as you start to understand your body and preferences better. To adjust these settings, swipe all the way to the bottom of your Summary page in the Fitness app on your watch and select “Change goals.”

If you need extra motivation to close your rings, you can also enable reminders to get up and move when you’ve been idle too long. Even better, add a few friends (if they’re fellow Apple users) to send and receive alerts when someone completes a workout. This adds a dash of competitiveness, a touch of guilt and opens up the possibility of bragging rights. If that’s not appealing though you can simply disable these things.

Apple Watch Series 6
Apple Watch Series 6

For those who exercise a lot, turning on Start/End Workout reminders can help ensure your sessions are logged by suggesting you start or end a workout when the Watch detects changes in your heart rate and movement. It’s a bit of a workaround, instead of proper automatic exercise detection, but it can still help keep you accountable. Enable these reminders by going to the Workout section in the Watch app on your phone. You can also get suggestions to launch guided breathing sessions throughout the day to help ground you.

Another important component of your wellbeing is the amount of sleep you’re getting. With watchOS 7, Apple added sleep-tracking to its wearables to help you understand your slumber. While other devices like Fitbits and Samsung watches do a better job of automatically detecting when you’ve fallen asleep and analyzing what sleep zone you’re in, the Apple Watch can still help you understand your sleep patterns.

Make sure you set a bedtime and wake time, as well as target sleep duration. If you’re not going to get enough hours before your morning alarm Apple will suggest you go down a little earlier. It’s important to have your sleep schedule set up because, at least during our testing, it appears as if the Watch uses this info to detect when you’ve gone to bed. The automatic sleep detection isn’t the most sophisticated at this time, but having prompts to go to bed can be helpful.

You can also enable a vibrating alarm (by turning on Silent mode) if you sleep with a partner or are hard of hearing. If you prefer to remove your watch when you go to sleep, enabling Nightstand mode (Watch app > General > Nightstand Mode) will turn the device into a bedside clock. It’ll dim its screen for the most part, but if you need to see the time, you just have to nudge the device (or even your table) a little and the display will wake.

Finally, one more way the Watch can help you keep healthy is by ensuring you’re following recommended guidelines for washing your hands. Turning on the Handwashing timer will launch a 15-second countdown each time the Watch thinks you’ve been cleaning your hands for 5 seconds. It’s not always useful, since sometimes you’re just getting some dirt off and don’t need to be sudsing for 20 seconds, but it’s not too intrusive and is helpful when you’ve been out and about.

Apple Watch Series 5
Apple Watch Series 5

Watch faces

Your Apple Watch’s main watch face is the screen you’ll be looking at the most, and it can feed you important information throughout the day. That is, when you’ve set it up right. You can use complications that show your activity or track your baby’s feeding schedule -- whatever is most relevant to you. I like the default complications of UV index, Weather, Schedule, Activity and clocks from other timezones on the Infograph face, for example. Our commerce editor Valentina Palladino, on the other hand, uses Timer, Workout and Now Playing.

You can pick the face with an aesthetic you like, then customize it in the Watch app to select the complications you want. The options available to you depends on what apps you’ve installed, and you can even add your favorite contacts for easy access from the home screen. This is one of the best features of an Apple Watch -- the faces are highly customizable and you’ll probably get inspired by the designs your friends use, too.

In that case, you can always ask your contacts to share their watch faces with you. If your spouse has the perfect system for managing household tasks on theirs, they can send it to you by long pressing their screen and selecting the share button. Just make sure you both have an Apple Watch Series 3 or newer.

You can also download faces that have been shared online or from your friends. When you see a design you like on your phone, click the link to download it or tap the share button and select Add to My Faces.

If you like changing your theme to match your outfit (or mood), you can line up a selection of faces and swipe right on your watch to pick a different one when the mood strikes. Finally, if you hate having to wait even a second to see the time, you can leave the Always On display enabled (it’s on by default), which will ding the battery life slightly. With it off, though, you can wake the display by lifting your wrist, tapping the screen or pressing the digital crown or side button. Always On is only available on Series 5 and 6, though.

Apple Watch Series 6
Apple Watch Series 6

Messaging and other final tips

When your hands are full and an urgent message comes in, having a pre-set reply easily accessible can help reduce stress. Whether it’s something as simple as “Can’t talk now, will check in later” or something more specific like “Hey boss, I promise I’m working but am busy now,” you can edit a default reply to fire off in those situations. Go to the Default Replies section in the Messages setting to compose them -- you can create more than 20 options.

For a more personal touch, make sure you have your Memoji set up on your iPhone to send a sticker response featuring your likeness. There are several ways to reply to your friends from your watch, but a Memoji is arguably the most fun (though not necessarily the clearest form of communication).

To make the most out of your Apple Watch, though, it’s worth going through your favorite apps and seeing if there’s either a complication you can use. For those who like logging their food and water intake, for example, a shortcut from the home screen will make that daily task much quicker. Also, if the number of apps on your watch gets unwieldy and Apple’s graphic interface gets too messy, you can always switch to a list view for the apps page.

Now that you have all the essentials figured out, it’s time to sit back and let your Apple Watch do the hard work for you. Have fun, good luck and enjoy!